Don’t Shoot to Kill – Shoot to Survive


If you have been taught that in a self defense situation you should shoot to kill, you have sadly been misled. Shooting to kill someone is the wrong goal. The right goal, is to survive the fight and live another day.

Firearms in the hands of sheepdogs and good people are meant to save lives, not take them away. Your primary objective when using your gun for self defense is to stop the threat, not take a life. As I put it recently in a course of advanced students … first survive; then help others survive.

Perhaps you have been led to believe that if you don't shoot the bad guy they will survive to file a lawsuit against you. There are two problems with this idea. First, so what? Is your money worth more than their life?

Second, if you kill them their family will sue you anyway. Trust me, if you shoot someone you are going to face a lawsuit regardless of if they die or not. Ask OJ Simpson about it.

Law enforcement officers are trained to first stop threats and then to administer first aid to all including those who they may have just fired upon.

The reason why is because they understand that they do not shoot to kill or shoot to take life, but always seek to save it. This is why gun laws support the preservation of life with the use of deadly force. Taking life can only ethically be justified in order to preserve life.

If you ever wonder if you could really pull the trigger, remember that you aren't shooting to take a life. You shoot in order to save lives. That is all the clarity and justification you will ever need.

If that person dies because you had to defend yourself against them, that is a byproduct of their attack.

Let me be clear. If you have to kill someone in order to stop them from being a threat then kill them. I am not saying you should shoot to injure or maim or slow down. Doing so would be foolish. I'm saying that you should shoot to STOP the threat and without question, we all know the best way to stop a threat is to shoot center mass. If that happens to kill the person that is an understandable potential outcome.

What I'm suggesting is that a person's ultimate outcome of living or dying isn't relevant to the objective. Having the objective to kill someone is illegal. Having the objective to protect your life and shooting to stop a threat but ultimately killing someone is both moral and legal.

Stating it differently; the intent is the issue. Intending to kill someone, maim someone, or injur someone is illegal. Intending to survive and protect your own life or the life of another innocent person is legal.

The method or tactics may be similar but the intent matters both in terms of having the best survival mindset as well as ensuring you act morally and legally.

Forget what anyone else may have told you. Your objective is not to kill, but to live. Your plan is not to take life but to save it. Here are a few other important resources to help you understand different aspects of this:

Is It Smart To Say on Facebook That You’d Kill Your Attacker?

Why You Were Told To Drag The Body Back In The House

Myth: Dead People Don't Talk or Sue You; So Shoot To Kill

Leave your thoughts on this in the comments below.

About Jacob Paulsen

Jacob S. Paulsen is the President of provides in-person and online firearm training for American gun owners. The Company is currently teaching in-person classes in 25+ states with a team of more than 55 instructors. Jacob is a NRA certified instructor & Range Safety Officer, USCCA certified instructor and training counselor, Utah BCI instructor, Affiliate instructor for Next Level Training, Graduate and certified instructor for The Law of Self Defense, and a Glock and Sig Sauer Certified Armorer. He resides in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado with his wife and children.


  1. Mike Forella on February 17, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    1. OJ Simpson was a murderer – he did not act in self-defense.
    2. You ALWAYS shoot to kill – you have a God-given right and duty to defend yourselves and loved ones even unto bloodshed (Alma 43:47).
    3. Yes, my money (and any potential victim’s money) is WAY more important than the life of some would-be rapist, sex offender, kidnapper, or murderer. So, eliminate the suing threat as well. As far as the family of the above mentioned scumbags go – they can attempt to sue, but they would never get my money by court order or anything. If I would have to evacuate every cent out of my bank account and hide and guard it, then so be it. In reality, if they sued me, the families of the said hypothetical above-mentioned scumbags would not only never see a cent of my money, but would be losing the same amount of money for which they sued me plus 1/5 after I counter-sued them – I guarantee it. If one tries to steal from me, they can prepare for the consequences.
    4. Stop spreading these bleeding-heart liberal lies under the guise of some 2A supporter (such as “so what? you think your money is more important than their life?”). It is sickening. If you truly believe such a lie, then you are in the wrong field of work.
    5. You are shooting to kill to save the lives of the potential victims, and save the perpetrator from himself/herself. Bloodshed is necessary/required for certain offenses. If you save the sicko’s life then guess what? He/she will only come after you to get revenge, and I do not mean via a lawsuit. Trying to save their life or let them live is the most dangerous thing a person can do.

    • Jacob Paulsen on February 17, 2015 at 12:28 pm

      Mike, thanks for your comments. Your thoughts are valuable and appreciated.

      • Doug on February 17, 2015 at 3:38 pm

        This old jarheads credo is simply this: ” kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out..”

    • Ron on May 28, 2016 at 9:51 am

      Mike, if you ever do have to shoot to stop somebody, you better pray that the prosecutor doesn’t discover this post.

    • Matthew Maruster on January 16, 2020 at 10:36 am

      Mike, Your entire statement is disturbing on its gross misunderstanding of defensive force, deadly-force incidents, legal issues and the sanctity of human life. There is real anger in your words. That anger is clouding your ability to see how hardened your heart is. The outcome of using defensive-force is not binary or zero-sum. Your concern should not be on killing someone or ‘only wounding’ them, but rather using the appropriate amount of force needed to stop them from harming you. What you speak of Sir is a premeditated desire to kill anyone who harms you, and that is wrong. Reasonable people reading your words see that. I hope you can overcome the anger in your heart and also see clearly the tragic error of your mindset.

    • T. O. on January 22, 2020 at 11:11 am

      Tell law enforcement that you “shot to kill” and you will likely be charged with a crime. This is taught in literally every single CCL class, and it should be a requirement anyone with a license know this. You are a danger to yourself and others if this is your mentality.

  2. Mike Forella on February 17, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    I hope people read this and are not deceived by this bleeding-heart liberal crap.

  3. Heidi on February 17, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    Yes I’m prepared to defend myself & loved ones, but “Thou Shalt Not Kill”.

    • RAF on February 19, 2015 at 1:50 am


      The commandment “Thou shalt not kill” doesn’t mean to never kill. If “Thou Shalt Not Kill” meant to never kill, ever, even if you feel it’s justified, and to do so would make you a murderer, then wouldn’t all the wars be damning practically everyone who participated in them to an unforgivable state, even the ones God basically commanded to happen, since murder is one of the unforgivable sins?

      From a religions standpoint, based off of either the Bible or BoM, this commandment is further defined to never kill in cold blood. Here is just one Bible example of such:

      Matthew 5: 21-22:
      “21 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:

      22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”

      There are also examples throughout these books that suggest that there are circumstances where killing is necessary in preserving your way of life, such as God telling the Israelites to kill certain groups of people because they were murderers, thieves, whores – basically living a life fit for the Devil himself.

      However, this doesn’t mean we HAVE to kill. We have every right to protect our way of life. How you do it is completely up to you. Being passive doesn’t make you a bad person and not wanting anything to do with killing someone is your right and choice, one that others should never ridicule. After all, isn’t that what agency is all about? The right and privilege to choose and act for ourselves? Should you ever change your mind, let me point out another Biblical reference to help cement the idea that should we need to use deadly force to protect our way of life, God does give us the right to do so:

      Exodus 22: 2
      ” 2 If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him.”

      In some cultures they believed and exacted judgement on those who killed with blood for blood. Meaning, you kill someone, the only way you can repay the debt, is with your own life. This is what this passage is referring to. If someone breaks into your home, and the defensive measures you use to protect your life, causes the intruder to lose theirs, then it was justified and there is no debt to be owed.

    • Larry on May 28, 2016 at 8:56 am

      Some translate that to thou shall not murder. Which is the better translation, I don’t know. There is a big difference between murder and kill.

    • Keith Karouzos on January 24, 2020 at 8:25 pm

      That commandment is actually”You shall not murder” that’s quite different than You shall not kill

  4. Kal on February 17, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    I agree with you, although you will get slammed by bloodthirsty 2nd Amendment absolutists.

    I’ll go even further and say the normal load should be FMJ, not an expanding bullet designed to do maximum damage and completely destroy limbs and organs.

    Also a modest .380ACP or 9mm, not a hand-cannon.

    Some countries restrict private handgun ownership to six-shot revolvers in modest calibers. This is enough for legitimate home/personal defense.

    Unfortunately, in the USA, we can’t reach a reasonable compromise in the gun debate. This is the fault of both 2nd Amendment absolutists, AND anti-gun nuts whose aim is to progressively extinguish all handgun ownership and self-protection rights.

    So we’re stuck…

    • RAF on February 19, 2015 at 2:17 am

      Kal – “I’ll go even further and say the normal load should be FMJ, not an expanding bullet designed to do maximum damage and completely destroy limbs and organs.” — Are you specifically pointing your fingers at Shotgun? If so, you realize that the AR-15, while uses a FMJ, the bullet can fragment right? It actually happens more than people think, and in ways can act like a shot gun upon flesh impact.

      I will say this however: Regardless of what ends up happening to our right to arm ourselves by way of Gun bans, or ammunition bans… People will always find ways to circumvent the law. You take one thing out of the mix, people will replace it with something else, often times even deadlier.

    • Joey on January 15, 2020 at 2:35 pm

      I’d venture to disagree with you on using FMJ rather than expanding rounds for defensive use, just because in a situation where somebody needs to employ deadly force to defend themself, it would be a disservice to use a less effective round against an attacker. Doing more damage to an attacker is most likely going to result in a quicker psychological and/or physical stop. Yes, we’re only truly looking to stop the attack, but the truth of the matter is that the quickest way to do so is to do as much harm as possible.

    • Dan on January 16, 2020 at 4:11 am

      Six shots is enough for legitimate defense? Who are you, Dead-Eye Dick from an old western movie? Averages for hits by trained police officers involved in gun fights across the US typically run between 20-30%. Note that those are hits, not necessarily effective hits. So, there you are, fat and happy and watching TV, when a group of three or more bad guys smash in your front door (It’s happened to friends of mine). How many shots will you need? Are you at least as good as the average cop? Do you really think six will be enough? Or do you propose carrying multiple revolvers?

  5. Jacob Paulsen on February 19, 2015 at 1:59 am

    Great thoughts here from everyone. I don’t see any issue with taking a life in order to stop a threat that one deems worthy of stopping by any means necessary. Where I get hung up is in the idea that too many of us feel (or at least articulate) that the primary objective of the use of force is to kill. This is where I disagree. I feel the primary objective is to stop the threat… even if that requires killing. All things said I always hope I will not have to kill or that in my use of force to stop a threat I will not have killed another.

    I realize that doesn’t fully address some of your comments but perhaps it clarifies my feelings a little.

    • RAF on February 19, 2015 at 2:34 am

      Jacob – that ideal isn’t a wrong one to have either. It really comes down to a psychological thing. Generally in high stress situations, especially ones where there’s a armed intruder, you’ll try to do what you’re trained to do.

      However, that doesn’t always play out perfectly because most people actually become so frantic, so scared, that they stop thinking clearly and their judgement becomes clouded. Subconsciously you’ll still have that idea “shoot to kill” running through your mind – and it might actually happen, but it might be to someone that’s not the intruder, say.. a family member that unknowingly crept up on you and scared you even more.

      If the intruder actually wasn’t armed, and say… was your friendly neighbor who saw your door open and something seemed a little off – what happens when your shoot to kill mentality actually harms an innocent? Although it’s a hypothetical situation, it’s something to think about.

      Also to note: I remember you saying some time ago that most of the “armed” intruders aren’t even armed at all. This is where shooting them can quickly become a very dark gray area.

  6. tacticaliron on February 24, 2015 at 7:41 pm

    Be careful what you say to friends, family co-workers and especially what you post on the internet.

    More wisdom for the mindset of shooting to stop an attack rather than shoot to kill is that your own relatives and friends won’t come back and say in court:

    “Oh yes, I heard Bob So-and-so say many times he would shoot to kill.”

    You think the District Attorney isn’t going to throw that to the jury? If pulling a firearm stops the attack… then you have survived and that’s what matters. There is a big difference in the eyes of the law of shooting to stop an attack or shooting to make sure someone is dead.

    One is self-defense and one is an execution. Has nothing to do with Liberal philosophy it has to do with going to jail for life or being a free person to be with your family.

    If the only way to stop an attack is indeed to shoot the attacker until he stops attacking you or a third party then you have to prove it in court. Likely both Civil and Criminal. And whether you are proven guilty or innocent that attorney representing you will still cost you $10,000 just to start.

    Most people in the self-defense industry understand this and don’t want their students to face a court unnecessarily…. as indeed they don’t want to either. If shooting and wounding an attacker stops the attack then again you have SURVIVED and stopped the attack.

    Don’t forget that some people survive headshots, shots to the center mass etc and some die from being shot in the arm. Don’t get into that narrow view of “shooting to kill” its a recipe for disaster. Just as much as the school of thought “I’ll fire a warning shot first” is dangerous.

    Zimmerman proved to a jury that he shot to defend himself and that he didn’t commit murder. How much money did it cost? How much better is his life now than before? He will be in the media spotlight forever, and many people judge that he is guilty regardless of the outcome of his trial. If you are hell bent on shooting to kill 100% of the time, you are in for a downhill trip. In most states you can use “Reasonable Force” or an “Appropriate” amount of force to stop an attack when you fear for your life and certain elements are in play.

    Those who refuse to understand the law can still be deeply affected by it. Read some books on Justified Use of Force. Even police have to follow the law when they use force.

  7. Keith Fisher on February 25, 2015 at 7:51 am

    On the point of using FMJ bullets. As I tell my students, the real purpose of using a hollow point bullet, is so that the bullet expands, slows down, ans does not exit the criminal’s body and travel further where it may strike someone else. Regarding the AR-15 using a FMJ bullet, you are talking about a bullet traveling at over 3000 feet per second, way faster than the fastest of any handgun round. That makes all the difference in the world. If you think that you are shooting to kill…Just say so in court and see what happens. I fully agree with Jacob.

  8. Ron on May 28, 2016 at 9:44 am

    Practice often, to make sure you can hit a six inch circle at twenty feet. Then, if you have to shoot somebody, put two hollowpoints right in the middle of his chest. Get that second one in there fast, because he might already be starting to go down after the first one. You want both bullet angles to be consistent with a person standing upright.

    After the bad guy is stopped, ensure the area is secure. You are worried that there might be an accomplice. The situation will have to determine what you do about any accomplice. It will be necessary to leave the b.g. bleeding out or drowning in blood while you check the area for safety, but unfortunately that can’t be avoided.

    Once you’re certain that the area is secure, then call 911 and request medical help for a gunshot wound. If some anti-gun prosecutor takes you to court for the shooting, this action will be the second most valuable thing on your side. The first is that shooting in self defense was the only way to stop the b.g. Emphasize only way.

    Don’t have the gun in your hand when the police arrive. You’ll get shot. Don’t make any statement to the police except that you were afraid for your life and you just wanted to stop him. Let your attorney do the talking for you.

    You use hollowpoints for safety. The likelihood is that a solid bullet will exit the b.g. and strike a bystander. You will not have the luxury of time to maneuver so that the line of fire behind the b.g. is clear. If you have to shoot, you have to shoot fast.


    • Luke on January 15, 2020 at 3:55 pm

      Yikes, Jacob, you’re getting roasted down here. It’s unfortunate that so many readers of this page don’t understand the difference in shooting to kill and shooting to stop a threat. That lack of understanding may send some of these folks to prison one day.

  9. James Stewart on January 15, 2020 at 3:40 pm

    Completely disagree. You sound like a typical Liberal. When you shoot that intruder in the leg and you think the threat is immobilized, and sadly, you find out that the perp had two other guns on his person and he pulls them out and makes Swiss cheese of you and your family bc you were an idiot, then it’s too late for anyone involved and you and your family are another statistic.

    If that person is a deadly threat to you and/or peoplenyou are bound to protect, you eliminate the threat completely. If they put themselves in that position, then they deserve whatever fate befalls them. And regardless of whether the family sues or doesn’t, it’s considerably more difficult to prove any perceived wrongdoing by family members who werent even present than it is the perp, who is now free, along with his morally and ethically bankrupt attorney, to fabricate whatever version of the story they wish to present to a judge. Hard to do that if he is dead, though.

    Sorry this posted as a response to someone elses post. It was supposed to be in response to the article

    • Joshua Gillem on January 16, 2020 at 5:37 am

      James, please tell us where in the article we say to shoot an intruder in the leg? Or where we say to shoot to injure? We would never condone such actions. We teach that the only way to stop a threat is to shoot center mass with a goal to hit vital organs using proper ammunition that will expand to do the most amount of damage. Will that person likely die? Yeah, probably. Is it my goal to EVER kill someone? No, it’s not. However, if that person dies as a result of me protecting myself from their stupidity, that’s on them.

      Thanks for the comment,


  10. Jim on January 15, 2020 at 9:28 pm

    Young’s literal translation of the old testament from the original Hebrew was “thou shall not murder” _ big difference…..

    • Mike Rehmus on January 18, 2020 at 9:57 am

      Here is Jesus’ take on self defense when he sent out the Apostles:

      Luke 22:36 “He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.

      And where do you think Peter got the sword with which he cut off the servant’s ear when they arrested Jesus?

      So there are instances in the New Testament (the current contract God gave us) where Jesus recognized the need for self defense.

  11. Jake on January 16, 2020 at 7:22 am

    Normal load should be FMJ? So it is ok to kill someone but we be should be concerned about the size of the whole wr leave in their body?

  12. dtia on January 16, 2020 at 1:16 pm

    The statute in Texas clearly says it is unlawful to shoot to intimidate, maim or otherwise injure. That means that if your gun leaves it’s holster, there’s no other legal option than shoot to kill.

    • Jacob Paulsen on January 16, 2020 at 1:22 pm

      That just isn’t true. The law regulates intent. Intending to kill someone is illegal. Murder or attempted murder. Intending to intimidate is menacing or assault. Intending to maim or injure may also be illegal. The thing that is NOT illegal is intending to defend yourself using the tools you have at your disposal and doing what is necessary to do so.

  13. frankjbonazza3 on January 21, 2020 at 9:26 am

    I would just like to say: Everyone of us has the same goal if we are ever in the unfortunate position of having to defend ourselves or our families- Whatever has to be done to survive. I subscribe to the shoot center mass philosophy. I’m not gonna take a head shot if it doesn’t make sense. I’m just doing whatever it takes to get to safety.

  14. Bob Black on January 21, 2020 at 1:45 pm

    Jacob, the author, makes a blanket statement. Here’s a couple more blanket statements: Whites are always _____, Blacks are always _____. Why should I accept a blanket statement? If we go back to the root issue, you are defending yourself against a deadly threat. To repeat: deadly threat. What guarantee is there that if you injure the attacker, or one of the attackers, that your life will be spared, or the attack stops? Do you know the state of mind or the drug status of the attacker that would make you want to avoid a deadly defense? Would you want to reduce the number of attackers to only 0.5, 1.5, 2.5 or 3.5 people? Your bullet will make them, stop, lie down and moan?

  15. T. O. on January 22, 2020 at 11:16 am

    Excellent post, Jacob. Thanks for putting this out, a lot of folks need to understand this, apparently. Recently moved from PA to UT and transferred my CCL. Utah requires a 4-hour instructional class, and the instructor (thankfully) taught the same topics you’ve described herein. Good thing, too: Most folks in the class made declarations about “killing someone” or other incredulous things that make them sound as dangerous as an actual threat.

  16. Albert on January 23, 2020 at 6:58 am

    As the attorney said: ‘it would be most advantageous if, in the end, we are discussing only one version of the incident”.

  17. George on March 20, 2020 at 1:06 am

    @Matthew Maruster: There is nothing wrong with someone planning to defend themselves and family with lethal force if it is required. Who said there is anger in his heart and his heart is hardened? I have six degrees and find his post very reasonable. Maybe you should go to school before wrongfully judging his heart, concerns, and the reasonableness of others. Your mindset is clouded if you cannot see that self-defense is binary. Your morality is also clouded if you cannot see that the life of a murder or rapist somehow has any value just because they are the same species as you and me. It is a shame and disturbing that you believe the way you do. It is actually very clear that Mike understands self defense, legalities, and lethal-force contexts, as well as the sanctity of true human life (innocent people); and that all he wants is his loved ones to be safe. It is obvious that the one with gross misunderstandings of self-defense, lethal-force contexts, and legalities (as well as Mike’s intents) is you. It is also clear that your heart is in a state of great sin, for you are, in a way, defending rapists and murderers. This sin has clouded your mind and made your ability to judge, skewed, so please repent.
    @Ron: I seriously doubt he is worried, but he does seem like a praying man from his post.

    • Matthew Maruster on March 20, 2020 at 9:24 am

      Thanks for your feedback George but you’re wrong. Good luck.

  18. George on March 20, 2020 at 1:13 am

    @TO: I don’t think he is worried about that – he probably is a 3%er, if I had to guess. Also, I have a CCW permit and that was never taught. Finally, I would feel safest around someone like Mike. Around you? No. You are the danger to yourself and others because you defend perps and condemn those who rightfully detest them. I would guess only perps have to fear Mike, not good people.

  19. George on March 20, 2020 at 11:13 am

    @Matthew Maruster:
    No, I am definitely correct. You are entirely wrong and it is tragic.

  20. George on March 20, 2020 at 11:16 am

    @Matthew Maruster:
    No, I am 100% correct. You are quite wrong and it is a shame. Best of luck to you nonetheless.

  21. Zach on March 20, 2020 at 11:55 am

    No, Matthew, I am pretty sure George and Mike are right and you are wrong, because not all states are messed up like Ohio, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and California (which I like to call the “6-headed beast”). For example, someone commented about Texas self-defense law, above. Texas (and many, many other states’) defense laws are not draconian/criminal.

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